Dr Mary McAteer: ‘Ubunye’ Empowering parents in disadvantaged South African communities

Working with Professor Lesley Wood, Northwest University, South Africa, and funded by the British Academy / Newton Fellowship scheme (£71,350, Oct 2015 – Oct 2016), this research project sought to enable teachers and teaching assistants from a peri-urban, impoverished community to collaborate to develop a training programme to help parents to better support their children with their schoolwork.

Parental involvement in education has been proven to have beneficial outcomes for learner, parent and school. Yet, in South Africa it remains a problematic issue, particularly in socio-economically challenged communities.
Through the research the team worked to engage community members, in a collaborative, inclusive and democratic partnership, to research and develop suitable outcomes to find ways to improve the education of their children. The team used a participatory action research (PAR) methodology, aimed at encouraging full involvement of community participants in co-creating the knowledge needed to sustain improvement in their identified concerns. Such engagement requires the development of democratic and trusting partnerships between academic researchers and community participants. In theory this may appear simple, but in practice the establishment of such relations requires a complex understanding of the deep-seated social and cultural issues that shape the thinking, attitudes and responses of community participants within the project.   As two white, middle class academics, we are aware that the community members accord us with superior knowledge and expertise and that the success of the project depends on disrupting these assumptions.

For the community, one outcome of the research programme is the production of a parenting manual, produced and designed by the research participants themselves for use in in their own ongoing community development work. This is available in the three main languages in the community, Afrikaans, isiXhosa and English.  A further, and possibly more significant outcome is the development of skills by the community members to facilitate the continuation of this work as the project has formally ended.

In addition to these community outcomes, the research has been shared by publication and at conferences in the UK and internationally.

McAteer, M. and Wood, L. (2018), Enacting the civic role of the university in a community-based participatory action research project, Educational Action Research, Special Issue: Knowledge Democracy and Action Research, to be published Oct 2018.

Wood, L. and McAteer, M (2017) Levelling the playing fields in PAR: the intricacies of power, privilege and participation in a university-community-school partnership. Adult Education Quarterly.

Please visit the blog for more information:

British Academy Newton Fellowship Project